Background Grape ripening represents the third phase of the double sigmoidal curve of berry development and is characterized by deep changes in the organoleptic characteristics. In this process, the skin plays a central role in the synthesis of many compounds of interest (e.g. anthocyanins and aroma volatiles) and represents a fundamental protective barrier against damage by physical injuries and pathogen attacks. In order to improve the knowledge on the role of this tissue during ripening, changes in the protein expression in the skin of the red cultivar Barbera at five different stages from véraison to full maturation were studied by performing a comparative 2-DE analysis. Results The proteomic analysis revealed that 80 spots were differentially expressed throughout berry ripening. Applying a two-way hierarchical clustering analysis to these variations, a clear difference between the first two samplings (up to 14 days after véraison) and the following three (from 28 to 49 days after véraison) emerged, thus suggesting that the most relevant changes in protein expression occurred in the first weeks of ripening. By means of LC-ESI-MS/MS analysis, 69 proteins were characterized. Many of these variations were related to proteins involved in responses to stress (38%), glycolysis and gluconeogenesis (13%), C-compounds and carbohydrate metabolism (13%) and amino acid metabolism (10%). Conclusion These results give new insights to the skin proteome evolution during ripening, thus underlining some interesting traits of this tissue. In this view, we observed the ripening-related induction of many enzymes involved in primary metabolism, including those of the last five steps of the glycolytic pathway, which had been described as down-regulated in previous studies performed on whole fruit. Moreover, these data emphasize the relevance of this tissue as a physical barrier exerting an important part in berry protection. In fact, the level of many proteins involved in (a)biotic stress responses remarkably changed through the five stages taken into consideration, thus suggesting that their expression may be developmentally regulated.